Always With You
by Dafmeister (aka Dafydd)
Los Angeles, May 2000
Every corner, every staircase, every doorway led to another corridor, and at the other end she’d find another corner, another staircase, another doorway. Miles of them, miles of the same faded green walls and stained floors, leading her ever deeper into the maze her prison had become. And however far, however fast she ran, the monster was always behind her, just out of sight but always there.
Faith rounded another corner, her feet skidding on the bare concrete floor as she fought to change direction without losing speed, and she nearly collided with the far wall in her haste. The blood on her hands left a sticky trail on the paint as she pushed away and ran, another mark of her terror and guilt to join the dozens of stains she’d left in her wake. So much blood – it should have rubbed off by now, or dried, surely, but it was always there, always fresh, like it was welling up from inside her in an endless stream.
The monster growled, echoing in the corridor behind her. She didn’t want to look, but her head turned anyway and she saw its shadow cast on the wall, the hunched body, the mass of tendrils writhing around its head, coming for her.
She ran on, past a landing of empty cells, through a cafeteria that shouldn’t have been there. Nothing made sense any more, nothing was where it should be, but she didn’t have time to think, the monster was coming. The next corner led onto another corridor, and she ran for her life toward the door at the far end.
It opened, a blaze of light blinding her. She flung up her hands to shield her eyes and tried to stop, but her feet lost purchase on the concrete and she landed in a heap on the floor. Squinting against the glare she saw a figure appear silhouetted in the doorway and stride toward her, casting a long shadow that reached out to envelop her.
The door slammed closed again, cutting off the glare and leaving them in the pallid glow of the fluorescent ceiling lights. The figure stopped a few paces away, as though waiting for a sign. She blinked, clearing the sparks from her eyes, and looked up at it.
“Angel?” She leapt to her feet and embraced him, relief coursing like adrenaline through her veins. “Thank God you’re here, you’ve got to help me. There’s something after me, I can’t fight it, I know I can’t. We’ve got to get out of here.”
He didn’t respond, didn’t even move, just stood there like a statue until she let go of him and stepped away, unease beginning to churn within her. “Angel? What’s wrong?”
“Why, Faith?” His voice matched his expression, hard and rigidly controlled, but there was rage burning behind his eyes, she could see it now. “Why did you do you it?”
“Do what? I don’t-”
“I trusted you. I believed in you. I thought you wanted to change. How could you do this to me?”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Liar!” His face twisted into a snarl and she could hear the demon growling in his voice. “They all tried to warn me, they all said I was making a mistake, but I didn’t listen. I thought you wanted redemption!”
He took a step forward and Faith, suddenly afraid of him, flung out her hand to ward him off. He stopped, gasping in pain and looked down at his chest. He whispered ‘Why?’ before crumbling to ashes.
“No, no, please God no…” Faith stared in horror at the stake in her hand, blood soaking into the wood. She flung it into the corner and started backing away. She turned to run, but the monster was there, right behind her. She had time to see a mass of tangled hair and a face streaked with white, then a blade plunged into her gut and ripped her open.
She had no way to know how long it lasted. She had no sense of time, no sense of anything beyond pain and terror. And then it was gone. No warning, her eyes just opened and she was staring up at a bare concrete ceiling.
For a second Faith couldn’t move, then her hands leapt to her stomach, desperately trying to stem the flow of blood as her body curled protectively around it. She knew it was a nightmare, but the instinct was too strong and for a moment she was certain she could feel blood on her skin. Then, as the primitive core of her brain accepted that she wasn’t hurt, she laid her head back on the pillow and drew her hand away from a wound that had never been there.
Not like that, anyhow. Her fingertips brushed the scar above her right hip. Back to nightmares about things chasing me, huh? Least it’s not B this time.
Her eyes ached with fatigue, but she made them focus on the ceiling of her cell regardless. The cell itself was dark, but even at this time of night some of the lights in the corridor were left on for the guards, and she had more than enough illumination to pick out flaws and signs of age and wear in the concrete. She knew them all by now, as well as she knew the sounds of booted feet pacing the halls and the creak of bodies moving on aging beds in the cells around her.
She wanted to blame the lights for her tiredness. It would be easier to say that they kept her awake than to admit that she was afraid to sleep. Since she’d run from Buffy on Angel’s rooftop she hadn’t enjoyed one unbroken night. Every time she closed her eyes she dreamed of things she’d done or things she might do. Things that part of her wanted to do. The old nightmares of being hunted, of being the victim, had disappeared ever since she’d understood the monster she’d become, and she didn’t want to think about what their return might mean. Or what the creature she’d seen could represent. Or why she’d fallen asleep so readily.
Determined to avoid drifting off again, she rose from her bed and sat down against the far wall. The concrete was cold enough to keep her from getting anywhere near comfortable. The chill helped to push away the fatigue, if only a little, but didn’t seem to help with the lingering full-body ache that had come over her out of the blue that day. She wondered if maybe it was a reaction to being caged in this place. Or maybe it was the waiting.
How hard is it to find a judge who can say “life”? She’d confessed, hadn’t she? She’d given them everything they needed to put her away, but nothing seemed to be happening. She wasn’t even officially convicted yet. The public defender she’d been assigned said it was normal, that even with a confession it would be a while before she was sentenced, but part of her wondered if maybe the suits at Wolfram and Hart weren’t stalling things, covering their asses or just taking some petty revenge by dragging the process out behind the scenes. Not that it mattered in the long term, she’d be sleeping under prison sheets forever in any case, but now that she’d made the decision she just wanted to get on with it instead of hanging in some legal limbo.
Patience, her lawyer said. There were procedures to follow, avenues to explore. The idiot didn’t seem to understand that she didn’t want his help.
“Hey.” She looked up and saw one of the guards watching her through the cell door. He was silhouetted against the light, little more than a dark shape, but she knew what the look on his face would be. They all looked at her the same. “Get back to sleep, you’ve got a date with the judge tomorrow and he doesn’t want to be looking at the bags under your eyes.”
For a moment Faith fantasised about reaching through the bars, grabbing him by the throat and squeezing until his eyes popped out. Then she rose, stretched herself out on her bunk, and got back to waiting.
Sunnydale, August 2000
Buffy stamped on the thought before it could completely form. It was a beautiful night, she was out with her friends, and she wasn’t going to let thoughts of her spoil it, any more than she was going to let the weather get in the way. They’d be at the movie theatre in a few minutes, anyway, basking in the joys of modern air-conditioning, and she’d be able to concentrate on making sure the evening went as well as she’d planned. She’d put in too much work to let it be otherwise.
That had been her own fault, of course. She was the one who’d taken Xander’s casual “Anyone feel like seeing a movie Friday?” and turned it into a formal triple-date with planning, pizza afterwards and the need for a new outfit including a gorgeous silk jacket that just happened to be on sale. The whole thing had caught everyone by surprise; Anya in particular hadn’t quite grasped why she was making such a big deal out of it, but Xander had got her to play along. He, Willow and Riley had watched Buffy going into overdrive with a kind of bemused good humour, as though she was giving vent to her inner social queen because she was bored, and she hadn’t felt like telling them the truth. This wasn’t about the six of them spending time together. It was about four of them spending time with Willow and Tara.
Buffy knew she was over-compensating and she just couldn’t bring herself to care. She still felt guilty about the way she’d treated Willow over the last year, first letting their friendship drift to the point where Willow felt she couldn’t talk to her about Tara, and then her borderline freak-out when Willow finally did tell her. Ever since they finally got rid of Adam and the Initiative, Buffy had been trying to reach out and get to know this person who’d become such a big part of her best friend’s life. It was hard, and Tara wasn’t making it any easier – not that she was unfriendly, she was just so painfully shy that trying to talk to her could be an exercise in frustration.
Still, even an idiot could see how happy she made Willow, and as far as Buffy was concerned that more than made up for any social awkwardness. Plus, of course, Tara had been the first one to figure out that F- that she had hijacked Buffy’s body, and then helped find a way to reverse it. That alone bought her major plus points. Add in the smile on Willow’s face and Buffy was determined to make the new girl feel welcome.
It seemed to be working, too. Tara certainly wasn’t the life of the party, but she’d already said more that evening than Buffy had heard her say in the previous week, and she was blushing less and smiling more. It was a nice smile that turned into an impish grin whenever Willow made a joke, like when Xander had been complaining about the aches and pains his new construction job was causing him. She’d made a completely unprompted comment, too, offering to put together a mix of bath oils she knew that might help, and they’d all had to laugh as Xander tried to balance his discomfort against needing to cling to some scraps of ‘manly pride’, as he put it.
They’d almost reached the movie theatre when Buffy stopped midstride with a faint gasp of pain. It was so sudden that the others had taken a couple more paces before they realised she wasn’t with them. They all turned to find her rubbing her lower back and wincing. Riley stepped toward her but she waved him off. “I’m okay, I’m okay.”
“What happened?” asked Riley.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I just had this pain, like I got hit or something.”
“Have you been trying to reach things on the high shelves again?” Xander teased. “I’ve told you, there’s no shame in needing a ladder.”
“Yeah, laugh it up Mr. Can’t-lift-his-arms-above-his shoulders,” Buffy retorted, sounding rather grouchier than she’d intended. “Sorry Xand.”
“It’s cool. You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, it’s better now. It didn’t even hurt so much, it just surprised me.”
“You think maybe you tweaked something fighting that tusk demon last night?” Riley suggested. “You haven’t been training all that much.”
“You just want to get me back in a gym.”
“So I think you look cute in sweatpants, is that a crime?”
“No, not a crime. Evidence of craziness, but not a crime.” Buffy hopped up on tip-toe to kiss her boyfriend. “Come on, we’re going to miss the movie.”
Stockton, September 2000
The Northern California Women’s Facility
Sounds like a freaking pregnancy clinic. Or a nut farm. Faith tried to extract some humour from the thought, but she couldn’t even raise a hint of a smile as she sat in the corner of the exercise yard, soaking up the late afternoon sun and contemplating her new world.
In a strange way, the yard was almost like being back in elementary school at recess. Everyone was outside, desperate to make the most of what time they had away from confinement, some burning off excess energy with frenetic games of basketball or sessions of weight training, while others sat around playing cards or making trades behinds the guards’ backs. There were the cliques, the popular kids, the predators and the victims. And there were the misfits.
Faith landed squarely in that category. She’d made a few half-hearted attempts at getting to know people in her first few days, but the whole nature of the cell block’s social structure made her uncomfortable. Everything was based on image, bravado and the threat – and use – of violence. A few months before, she’d have fitted right in. Now she wanted nothing to do with it. For most people, the misfit and victim categories overlapped, but two fights in the first week after her arrival had made everyone a lot more cautious. The first time, the other girl had been stupid and made her move right when one of the guards had been looking at them. Faith had knocked her down with a single punch, and the guards didn’t give her any trouble. The second girl had been smarter, coming up behind her in the middle of a bunch of people at mail call so all the guards could see was two girls fighting. They’d both been on the receiving end of some nightsticks after that, but the way Faith took the beating, coupled with how fast she put her attacker down, had made a lot of people sit back and think. She still had occasional problems, but it was mainly new girls looking to build a rep straight away or opportunists who thought they’d spotted an opening, and she only had to be careful rather than paranoid. The last few weeks, most people just left her alone to brood on her new home.
She’d focussed on the people first, but working out who was who, what the gangs and cliques were and who was likely to give her grief hadn’t taken more than a few days; people who had groups backing them up made sure everyone knew it, so picking them out was child’s play for a Southie. From there she’d moved on to considering the prison itself.
NCWF was supposed to be a medium-security prison, and for most people the security was pretty solid. Locks and bars everywhere inside. Fences around the cell blocks, topped with barbed wire coils. A concrete perimeter wall, with more wire. Guards in the corridors and the yard. More guards on the catwalks and in the wall towers, with shotguns. Getting out would require a lot of planning or a lot of help – for most people.
For a Slayer there were a lot more options. The walls and fences weren’t high enough; she could easily reach the poles supporting the barbed wire and flip herself over the top in one move. The guards wouldn’t have time to react, and she doubted they’d have picked their jaws off the floor before she repeated the move with the perimeter wall. Faith reckoned she could go from a standing start to being on the ground outside the wall in less than twenty seconds if she had to, and that was only one option. So much of the security seemed to be based on human limitations – doors a human couldn’t force, windows left unbarred because a human couldn’t withstand the fall without serious injury.
Once outside the wall, the hard part would be choosing which option to take. Somehow the staff had let a map of the local area end up in the prison library, and Faith had been stunned by how many getaway routes there were. Barely a mile east of the prison was a container depot for the east-west rail line serving Stockton. To the southwest, literally just beyond the outer wall, no less than four high schools – high schools! – were clustered together, all filled with hideout spots, fresh clothes and car-stealing opportunities. Two miles to the northwest, less than a quarter of an hour on foot for her, lay the suburbs of Stockton itself, while the smaller town of Manteca lay less than six mile to the south. Stockton Metropolitan Airport was only two miles to the west. Stockton even had its own seaport. If she could stay free for an hour outside the walls, she knew they’d never catch her. Getting out wasn’t a done deal, but if she wanted to go, the odds were definitely in her favour - which meant the only thing that could really keep her there was her.
Why’d they have to send me here?
Her lawyer, some wet behind the ears idealist from the Public Defender’s office, had actually been pleased about it. She was lucky, he’d told her. She could have ended up in Valley State or CIW, and if the stories she’d heard about those places were true then she probably should have felt lucky, but from Faith’s perspective it had one drawback that, to her, pretty much cancelled out all the supposed good points. It was three hundred miles from Los Angeles.
Five hours driving, if the traffic co-operated. If Angel was going to visit her, he’d have to come up one night, then see her and drive back the next. He’d promised he’d make the trip as often as he could, but how often could he take that kind of time away? He probably would if she asked, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t make him wander off his road to redemption just because she needed help on hers, because she didn’t know how to deal with the sentence they’d given her.
Twenty-five to life.
I could get parole.
They might let me out someday.
I’d be forty-four. How many Slayers make it to forty-four?
She’d been shocked when the judge announced the sentence; she’d just assumed it would be straight life. Angel had been surprised, too, but for a different reason. He tried not to show it, but Faith had known he was upset at the length of the sentence. He’d thought prison was the first stage of her redemption, and then she’d be let out to try and make amends. She’d thought she’d be inside forever. Instead, she’d landed in the middle, and it felt like the worst option of the three. She could get out, but she’d be too old to do any good. And then they’d packed her off to Stockton, and she couldn’t even talk to him about it anymore.
At least he was able to write to her. A new letter had arrived that morning, she could feel it now, tucked into her pocket, calling out to her to open it, but she held back. She always read his letters in her cell, and then wrote back at once, before she had a chance to close up again. It was a ritual, something special, and she wasn’t going to share it with the world.
When Faith got back to her cell, Cat was already stretched out on the top bunk reading one of the library’s ‘educational’ volumes.
Somehow, Faith had never expected to have a cellmate. It was stupid, she’d seen enough TV to know better, but when she’d pictured what life would be like in jail one of the biggest parts of it had been lying awake at night, alone in the darkness. The thought had frightened her more that she wanted to admit, but having someone else around all the time just made the place more claustrophobic.
It could have been worse, though. If the stories were true, at Valley State and CIW they were three to a cell this size, crammed in around a stainless steel toilet unit and storage rack for what possessions they were allowed. Another reason she was lucky to be at NCWF, she supposed. And the company could have been worse.
Until she entered the prison system, Catalina Marquez had probably been a pretty girl, but her time inside had knocked a lot of the shine off her. A rough, institutional haircut almost forced attention away from striking eyes, so dark they looked black except under the brightest light. A ragged scar ran up one arm, half-hidden by a string of crude tattoos. She wasn’t big, a couple of inches shorter than Faith in fact, but she was stronger than she looked and made sure people saw her working out so they’d know it.
Behind the hard-ass mask, though, there was still something of the person she’d been before getting caught with just enough cocaine to be charged as a dealer. That person liked to talk, and had a knack for pulling jokes out of just about anything that happened in the jail. If she had to bunk with someone, Faith reflected, Cat was as good as she was likely to find.
Unfortunately, she seemed to have decided that getting Faith integrated was going to be her pet project.
“Yo, Beantown.” Cat didn’t look up from her book, but something like a smile flickered across her lips. “Saw you outside, making friends and influencing people again.”
“I like being on my own sometimes.”
“Yeah, I’m getting that, but this place ain’t exactly about what you like, you know? You got to start getting in with people if you want to make it in here.”
“Drop it, Cat.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to help,” Cat said, and this time the smile was obvious. She glanced at the envelope in Faith’s hand. “Your friend in L.A.?”
Faith nodded. “Yeah.”
“Make it last, chica, make it last…”
Faith laughed under her breath as she lay down on her bunk to read it.
I’m sorry this is such a short letter. Ever since we moved into the hotel we’ve been working like crazy to make the place liveable, and all the time we don’t spend on that’s going on cases. It seems like things are picking up speed out there – we’ve got a half-dozen cases going already and it seems like every time we close one, we open up two more. It bothers me that we haven’t heard anything out of W&H for a while. They’re planning something, I know they are.
At least we’ve got some help now. You remember me telling you about Gunn? He’s helped us out on a few cases the last couple of months, and I think he might want to join up full-time. He’s a good guy. I hope you’ll get to meet him some day.
How are you holding up? Are you still getting the pain? I know you’re tough but you can still get sick. Maybe you should see a doctor? Promise me you’ll take care of yourself, okay?
I have to go now; I think Wes has a lead on this low-life we’re after. I’ll write again soon, and I promise I’ll get up there as soon as I can.
Faith re-read the letter three times, savouring every curl and flourish of Angel’s handwriting. The first time he wrote to her she’d been afraid that she’d never be able to read it, but she’d quickly come to love the flow of it. It seemed to belong to a different time, and just for a while it took her away from everything around her.
Finally, she put the letter down on the sheet beside her and picked up the cheap notepad and pen she’d been able to buy from the prison store.
I guess there’s always something evil brewing in L.A., right? Good thing they’ve got you watching the place. I hope some of those gigs are the paying kind.
Things are going okay up here. I’m getting used to the place – it’s not like I’ve got a choice, right?
Yeah, I’m still getting the aches most nights, but I can deal. The doc gave me a check-up the day I arrived and she said I’m fine – I wouldn’t trust her to diagnose death, but I think she’s right, I’m not sick. They put me in this murder rehab program, the shrink says sometimes guilt makes people feel pain. Maybe he’s right? It mostly happens after lights out, which is kind of a bitch, but I can deal. Feeling like I’ve been through a fight’s not so bad.
Faith paused, sucking the end of the pen, then continued.
The food in here still sucks. I don’t know what the hell they’re putting in the meatloaf, but it tastes like something I hunted back in the day…
Sunnydale, October 2000
Giles stirred his tea while he tried to control the mixture of worry and disappointment he was feeling. If he was honest with himself, he should have known something was wrong when Buffy came to see him at his flat instead of the Magic Box, and now that she’d told him, he could feel the tension settling over them both. He took a sip of the tea to steady his nerves, and then set the cup down on the coffee table. “And how long have you been experiencing these… sensations?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy replied. She was sitting on the couch with her shoulders hunched and she wouldn’t look him in the eye. “A couple of months… more, maybe.”
“Months?” The angry exclamation came out before Giles could stop it. “Buffy, for goodness’ sake…”
“I don’t know!” She sounded almost helpless. “It’s pain, Giles. I’m a Slayer, I get hit a lot, bits of me ache after. I can’t go running to my Watcher just ‘cause I’ve got a sore spot the next day.”
“You should if you don’t know why it’s sore.”
“I know, I know, I just thought…” Buffy sighed and lowered her head again, her hair falling around her like a curtain. “I thought it was me. I hadn’t been training, not really. I thought maybe things were just stiffening up and it’d get better after I started working out again.”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t happen often, and most of the time it doesn’t even bother me. I mean, I ache more after fighting one lousy vamp.”
“But today was worse?”
“Yeah. I was at home with Mom and all of a sudden I just started to hurt. It was like I was getting hit, a lot, except I couldn’t feel anything hitting me, it was just the pain.”
“Does Joyce know?”
“No,” Buffy replied firmly. “She was downstairs, and I don’t want her to find out, she’s got enough to deal with right now.”
“Yes, I understand.” Giles took another sip of his tea. “Was this the first time it’s been this bad?” She just looked away. “Buffy!”
“I’m sorry!” She thrust herself up off the couch and started pacing. “It was just a couple of times before, I thought it was over.”
“All right, all right, there’s no sense arguing over it.” Giles gestured for her to sit down again while he tried to think. “What else can you tell about these pains? Are they always in the same place? Do they always occur at the same time of day?”
“Just about the only time it hasn’t happened is at night,” replied Buffy as she resumed her seat. Now that she’d got the admission out of the way some of the tension had lifted from her, and she was becoming more animated. “Places… with the little ones, I guess it’s mainly stomach or back – just one or two spots each time, like I got jabbed with something, you know? The bad days, it’s always the same. All along my arms, my shoulders and down my back, lots of places one after another. Any ideas?”
“Well, there are a number of mystical ways of inflicting pain on someone at a distance…”
“You mean like voodoo dolls and stuff?”
“Yes, that would be one way, but I really can’t see what anyone would hope to gain by it.”
“Hello?” Buffy waved her hand in front of his face. “Slayer here, vanquisher of all things evil and slimy.”
“Well, yes, obviously there are things that want to hurt you, but why like this? It hasn’t happened when you’ve been in battle, and it’s not having any lasting effect, so what’s the purpose behind it? Why not keep you in constant pain?”
Buffy let out a whimper. “Can we not be giving the universe ideas, please?”
“My point is, Buffy, that if this is an attack it’s more in the line of a nuisance than a threat.” Giles drained his teacup. “I’ll investigate of course, but at the moment I think there are other things we should be focusing our attention on.”
“Like finding out who Hell’s Prom Queen is and what she wants with Dawn.”
“Precisely. Do you intend to tell the others?”
“No.” Buffy could see him about to object and hurried on. “Giles, I’m not trying to be Mysterio-Girl here. The more people who know, the more chance there is of Dawn or Mom finding out. I can’t let that happen.”
“Yes, I appreciate that, but with everything else going on at the moment I won’t be able to find an answer very quickly on my own. Could we at least tell Willow and Tara, with their knowledge of magic…”
“Yeah, but Will sucks at lying and I’m not sure Tara even knows how.” Buffy considered the idea for a few moments. “Okay, I’ll talk to them tomorrow sometime if I get the chance.” She got to her feet with a grateful smile on her face. “Thanks, Giles. I know I should have talked to you sooner.”
“Don’t worry, Buffy, we’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Stockton, October 2000
“God, Beantown, don’t you never sleep?”
Faith stopped trying to find a comfortable position to lie in when she heard Cat’s drowsy groan and gave herself a mental kick. “Am I bugging you again?” she whispered.
“It’s these cheap-ass bunks, girl. You start squirming in the lobby, the penthouse gets shook up too.”
Faith started to laugh and had to smother it so the guards wouldn’t hear her. “You want to trade?”
“No, I like the view up here.”
The top bunk’s springs creaked and Faith knew Cat had rolled onto her stomach so she could see out of their small, grimy window. “What view? It’s just couple of hills and some trees.”
“It’s more than that, Beantown. It’s outside.” The way Cat said the word was almost reverential, as though she were naming something holy. “You’ve got to remember there’s a world out there, someplace to go back to when you’re done with this place.”
“Yeah,” Faith replied, her voice flat. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay, what’s with you?” Another chorus of creaks from the upper bunk signalled Cat changing position. “The way you talk sometimes, it’s like you want to be in here.”
“What’s the…” Faith hesitated as she heard booted footsteps coming along the landing. They stopped for a moment, one or two cells down, and then carried on. The guard passed in front of their cell, a darker shadow moving through the twilight of the cell block. Faith waited until she guessed the footsteps were a few cells away before she whispered again. “What’s the big deal? So I’m not always dreaming about the day I walk out of here, who the hell cares?”
“I do. I can’t figure you out, chica.” Cat sounded confused, almost frustrated. “Some days you’re cool, you talk to people, shoot some hoops, whatever. Other times you just go off walking circles round the yard and don’t say nothing to no-one. People don’t know where they are with you, it bugs them. That’s how problems get going.”
“I can take care of myself.” Even to her own ears, Faith sounded defensive.
“I know, I’ve seen you. Not the point. In here, only two kinds of people get stuck on their own – victims and psychos. Anyone who’s seen you throw down knows you ain’t no victim, but people think you’re loco, they start getting twitchy with you. Maybe they start thinking they need to deal with you before you go off on them? Maybe one of them gets lucky, maybe not, but either way you’re getting in more fights, so you get more crap from the chotas. They start messing with you, searching you, tossing the cell, maybe take away that sweet-ass work duty you got…”
“Oh yeah, the laundry room,” Faith replied sarcastically. “It’s wicked awesome, with the noise and the bleach smell.”
“Hey, you could be working the kitchen. You really want to know what you’re eating?”
Just for a second Faith almost laughed, in spite of everything else Cat had been saying, but she realised that she couldn’t bury her head in the sand any more. Although this was the first time Cat had said this outright, she’d been pushing the same point for weeks and ignoring it hadn’t made it go away. “Cat, look, I get what you’re trying to do, and it’s not like I don’t appreciate it, but you don’t want to get close to me.”
“Yeah? How come?”
“’Cause I’m not a good person to get close to.” Even now, making that admission hurt. “The last girl who tried to be my friend, before we were done she had to stick a knife in me.”
“Okay, she sticks you and you’re making it sound like that’s bad for her?”
“You don’t know her, you can’t…” Faith hesitated, lost for a way to explain how badly things had fallen apart in Sunnydale. “I did a lot of things she won’t forgive, and making her do that’s one of them.”
“What about your guy in L.A., what did you make him do?”
“Angel… Angel’s complicated.”
“Outside’s always complicated,” said Cat. “Inside’s simple. You need friends in here, people to watch your back and stop you going crazy.”
“Cat, it’s not-”
“Hey!” A flashlight beam caught Faith square in the eyes and she almost hit her head on the wall recoiling from the glare. “Lights out means you keep your god-damn mouth shut and go to sleep.”
She couldn’t see anything beyond the light, but the voice was one Faith had come to loathe. “God, Hartson, take it easy.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?” There was a faint suggestion of movement outside the cell, enough to have Faith picturing Hartson putting her hand to her nightstick. “You need something to help you sleep, Lehane?”
Bring it, bitch. A bitter tide of adrenaline poured through her, the desire to lash out and hurt someone. Faith tried to keep any of it from showing on her face, but knew she’d failed when she heard Hartson’s harsh snort of a laugh. Very deliberately, she rolled over with her back to the cell door and pulled the covers up over her shoulder. She half-expected Hartson to come in and yank her out of her bunk, but the guard just let out one last snort, clicked off her flashlight and strolled on down the landing.
Neither prisoner moved or spoke for a while, but after a few minutes Faith became aware of stream of muttered comments coming from the top bunk. Her knowledge of Spanish didn’t extend beyond ordering Mexican, but she’d been around Cat long enough to recognise at least some of the obscenities. Part of her wanted to ignore it and just go to sleep, then get up in the morning and pretend none of that night had happened, and yet something in her wouldn’t let her lie still, and finally she whispered “Cat?”
“What’s Hartson’s damage? How come she’s always got a stick up her ass?”
A faint but still-infectious laugh floated down from the top bunk. “Just between you and me, I think that’s the problem. No-one’s sticking nothing up her anywhere.” Faith buried her face in her pillow to smother her own laugh, and Cat whispered “That’s more like it, Beantown. We good now?”
“Why’re you doing this, Cat?”
“I told you, people in here need friends.”
Springs creaked, and Cat’s head appeared over the side of her bunk. “I’m people too, yeah?”
“I’m not good at the friend thing.”
“I’ll risk it. We good?”
There was something about the other girl’s determination that made Faith feel utterly helpless, and it almost worried her that she didn’t seem to care. “Five by five.”
“Cool.” Cat lay down again. “Catch you on the flip side.”
Silence reigned for maybe a quarter of an hour, then the bunk shook. Cat groaned. “Not this again, Beantown…” When there was no response from the lower bunk, she lifted her head, halfway to looking over the edge again. “Beantown? Faith?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry.”
“What’s up with you?”
“Sorry, I-I guess I must’ve been laying on my arm wrong. I’m good, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Muttering to herself, Cat settled down again for the night. In the lower bunk, Faith lay with one hand clenched around the metal frame, knuckles white, while the other clutched at her stomach, trying to smother the sudden flare of pain.
Fold, fold, fold, stack.
They smell good, don’t they?
Fold, fold, fold, stack.
Clean sheets. Like summer.
Fold, fold, fold, stack.
“Stupid coma dreams,” Faith muttered as she picked up her pile of freshly-laundered sheets and carried them over to the cart that would distribute them to the cells.
Cat had been right, for the most part. The laundry room wasn’t top of the list of plum work assignments, but there were worse places. A lot of the other inmates who worked there hated it; it was hot and boring, and there wasn’t much chance of stealing something that could be traded. Faith, on the other hand, had settled into a fairly contented groove. She didn’t particularly like working there, but after a few weeks she found herself drifting through her shifts, lulled by the relentless hum of the washers until she could go for hours without thinking about anything. She’d finish a shift sweaty and tired, smelling of bleach and cheap detergent, but for a few hours she had some peace.
Except on the days when they washed the bedding. Being surrounded by piles of clean sheets, still warm from the dryers, always brought back that same image of making a bed with Buffy. The contrast was so stark it hurt, a quiet domestic illusion laid over the institutional toil, and the sheets sure as hell didn’t smell like summer.
Faith gave herself a mental kick and told herself to snap out of it, knowing in her heart that it would be futile, and set off back to the dryers for another load. Along the way she had to get past one of the other prisoners, Kara, who was feeding a batch of blankets into one of the washers. The laundry room was neither roomy, nor well laid-out, and it was a tight squeeze getting by. How come teeny blondes always take up so much damn room?
The thought killed of any chance of her not thinking about Buffy, and the glare she fixed on the dryer as she began hauling out sheets should have stripped the flaking paint right off the metal.
She couldn’t put her finger on what gave her the warning; a glint of metal reflected in the dryer, a footstep behind her, an intake of breath… something so subtle it didn’t even register consciously, but enough for her instincts to pick up on. She twisted out of the way before she knew what she was doing, and the shank did nothing more than score a line down the dryer’s casing.
“We got a beef, Rayna?” Faith asked as her attacker recovered her balance. “’Cause I don’t remember getting in your face about anything.”
“Shut your mouth, whore!” Rayna snarled as she lunged again with the shank, more a metal spike than a blade, aiming for the pit of Faith’s stomach. Faith dodged back a step, braced herself and snapped a kick into Rayna’s chest that dumped her on the ground.
The rest of the laundry crew were clustering around them, some of them openly enjoying the unscheduled entertainment, others watching anxiously for the inevitable guards, most just part of the crowd. Faith glanced at the door, hoping the guards would be there, but there was no sign of them yet and Rayna was getting to her feet again. “You sure you want to do this, Ray?”
Everything Faith said just seemed to stoke Rayna’s fury. Teeth bared, eyes wide and fixed, she attacked again, striking for the face this time. The guards were still nowhere in sight and Faith’s patience snapped. She caught hold of Rayna’s wrist and shoved it upward, sending the thrust over her head, while she stepped into the attack and crunched her elbow into Rayna’s face. The other woman stumbled back a pace but wouldn’t give up, trying to pull her arm from Faith’s grip. Faith stepped to the side and swung her around until she was pinned face-down over a washer. “Drop it, Ray!”
Rayna tried to kick her away. Faith pressed her down on the washer and started to force her arm upward behind her, until finally the shoulder dislocated. Rayna cried out in pain and the shank dropped from her fingers. Faith let her go and she slumped to the floor, cradling her arm.
Half a dozen guards pushed their way through the crowd, Hartson in their midst. Her nightstick was already out, and as soon as she saw Faith her face twisted into a cruel sneer. She jabbed her nightstick toward Rayna. “Get her out of here.”
Two of the guards picked her up and carried her off. One of the others picked up the shank, a few strands of steel wire twisted together and attached to a bit of wood for a handle. He looked it over with distaste for a moment, and then handed it to Hartson. She took it wordlessly and nodded toward the other prisoners, and the guard began hustling them out. “Okay, show’s over, back to your cells, we’ve got a count in fifteen…”
Faith started to follow them, but Hartson’s nightstick barred her way. “Not you, Lehane, you and me are going to have a little talk.”
“Give me a break, Hartson, she came after me.”
Hartson rammed the point of her nightstick into Faith’s stomach. Faith grunted in pain but stayed upright as Hartson leaned in close. “Seems like a lot of people come after you, Lehane. I guess you’re just not good at getting along with people, huh? Well I’ve got a newsflash for you, girl: I don’t care how socially challenged you are. My job’s to keep this place running smooth so everyone in the real world can forget you punk-ass bitches even exist. If you can’t learn to keep your head down in here, my job gets harder and that’s a problem for me, so I’m going to be on your ass every day until you figure it out. Got me?”
Faith’s punch knocked her into the bank of dryers, and the second blow sent her to her knees. Hartson tried to strike back, flailing with her nightstick, but Faith just caught it and ripped it from her grasp. A second later the nightstick crashed across Hartson’s jaw, spilling blood and broken teeth onto the floor. She started to scream, her ruined mouth warping the sound into a gurgling wail, punctuated by wet thuds as Faith bludgeoned her head, the skull crunching under each blow-
“Hey!” Hartson snapped her fingers in front of Faith’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Lehane, am I boring you?”
Bile scorched a trail up Faith’s throat, and as she forced it back down she tried to send the image of Hartson’s shattered skull with it. Hartson’s eyes began to turn angry at her lack of response, and she hurriedly shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. Hartson gave her one last, contemptuous look and dismissed her.
The intensity of Faith’s vision frightened her, as did the seething pit of anger Hartson had cracked open. She knew she was a long way from being healthy, but she’d thought she was further along than that. Something about the way Hartson looked at her seemed to make her blood catch fire, and once the count was over she just wanted to hide in her cell and wait for it to stop. Only a couple of months previously, that’s exactly what she would have done. Instead, after a few minutes she went looking for Cat.
The day room always reminded her of an under-funded hospital, with its white walls and tiled floor. Even the bare steel tables bolted to the floor had a vaguely medical feel to them. Cat was sitting at a table in the corner, playing chess with one of her friends. She looked up and smiled when Faith pulled up a chair next to them. “Yo Beantown, how’s it hanging? Want to play the winner?”
“How about I play the loser, I might stand a chance that way,” Faith replied with a hint of a laugh in her voice. Cat had been right; getting involved with people had been good for her, and Cat in particular always improved her mood. She nodded to Cat’s opponent. “Hey, Michele.”
Michele’s dark eyes glanced up from the board for a second, then she reached out a hand the colour of chocolate syrup and moved her bishop out of harm’s way. “Hey yourself, girlfriend. Word is you had a little dance with Rayna, that right?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Someone want to tell me why, ‘cause I got nothing here.”
Michele looked over at Cat in disbelief. “She for real?”
“Yeah, she’s cool but she’s kind of slow sometimes.” With a gentle shake of her head at Faith’s cluelessness, Cat explained “It’s about Kara.”
“Kara? What’s she got to-”
“You telling me you don’t see it?” Michele asked. “That girl’s into you, hon.”
“Uh-huh. And Rayna’s been wanting a piece of her skinny white ass for months, so she ain’t pleased about it.”
“Okay, hold up a second,” Faith said, trying to get a handle on it. “Kara’s gay? And Rayna’s gay?”
“Gay for the stay, girl. People get lonely.” Michele shrugged. “You seriously didn’t know?” Faith just shook her head. “Well, she’s a nice-looking girl, you ought to think about it.”
“Sorry, I guess I’m not that lonely yet. And if I was, I sure as hell wouldn’t do it with some little blonde chick.”
“Hey, your loss.”
A pair of guards came into the day room, one of them carrying a mail bag. Nearly all the prisoners perked up, listening to the names being called out, hoping theirs would be among them. Faith tried to ignore the whole thing, but after every name that wasn’t hers, her eyes half-closed for a moment, just enough for Cat to notice. When the guards reached the end of the list, she whispered “Sorry, Beantown.”
Faith just shrugged. “No big. I ought to be used to it by now, right?”
“Hey, don’t get like that, chica. Guys who write you every week don’t just stop. You tried calling?”
“Three times.” Faith glanced at Michele, who was taking a sudden and intense interest in the state of the chessboard. “No-one’s picking up.”
“So maybe no-one’s home? Maybe your guy had to blow town for a while,” Cat said, trying to sound positive. “He’s your friend, he’ll be back.”
“Yeah. Sure he will.” Faith forced a smile. Where the hell are you, Angel?
Stockton, February 2001
Faith was leaving the cafeteria after evening chow – no-one who had eaten Stockton’s attempt at spaghetti would dignify it with the word ‘dinner’ – when one of the guards called her over. She tried to act cool, but inside she tensed up, trying to figure out why she’d been singled out. The usual random harassment or something more deliberate? She hadn’t broken any rules that she knew off, but that didn’t mean that someone couldn’t drop a word in a guard’s ear suggesting she had, just to mess with her. When the guard told her what he wanted, though, her heart skipped a beat. “You’ve got a visitor.”
All the way over to the reception block, she tried to convince herself that it wasn’t him, that he wouldn’t come to see her out of the blue after weeks of silence, but she couldn’t dissuade herself. Who else could it be? The only other person from the outside who had any contact with her at all was her lawyer, and when he turned up they always told her. And why would her lawyer come on a Saturday, especially this late in the day?
Even so, when she entered the visiting room and saw Angel on the other side of the glass, she almost missed a step. Old instincts welled up inside her, and she slapped a mask of indifference over her anger and sadness as she sat down opposite him and picked up the phone. “Angel. I was starting to think one of the bad guys got you.”
“Faith…” He was having a hard time looking her in the eye, and when she did catch his gaze she saw something in it that she needed a minute to recognise. She’d seen a lot of things in him before; anger, joy, sadness, disappointment, depression, fear, even hatred. She’d never seen shame. “Faith, I’m sorry.”
“Okay, you’ve got my attention.” She sat back in her chair, her eyes still cold. “What happened?”
“I stepped off the road,” he said. “Something happened, and I got so caught up with beating the bad guys that I forgot why we’re the good guys. I made some bad choices, I did things… some of them were bad, others were just really, really stupid.”
“You didn’t…” Faith hesitated, trying to think of a way to put it that others wouldn’t understand. “You didn’t eat out, right?”
“No, I didn’t eat out.” Angel almost laughed, just for a second, and then his face darkened again. “People died. I didn’t kill them, and they weren’t good people, but they died and it was my fault. My choices.”
Faith didn’t know what to say. He’d kept his voice calm, quiet, barely audible to anyone else in the room. If they couldn’t make out the words, they’d have thought he was talking about the weather or traffic. The real message wasn’t in what he said, or even the way he said it; it was in the way he looked at her. She could see the new shadows behind his eyes, the pain he felt over what he’d done and the feeling that he’d somehow let her down, not by abandoning her but by failing to be the person she needed him to be. It threw her, the sudden realisation that her paragon, the one she held up as an example of what she needed to do, could stumble. “So what happens now?”
“Start again, I guess, try to fix things with the people I care about.” He looked away for a moment. “That’s part of why I’m here.”
“Only part of it?”
“I got your letters, and I did like you asked, or at least I started. I didn’t get far on my own, and you didn’t want me to ask Wes, but I think I might know what it is.”
“I hope so, ‘cause it’s getting annoying.”
“I need to ask you something first. Late October, you said it got really bad one night, like you were being stabbed.”
“Yeah. I went to the doc about it, bitch said it was just indigestion, but you know I know what getting stabbed feels like.”
Angel pressed his hand against his stomach. “Was it here?”
“Yeah, how did you-”
“Buffy got stabbed there, around the same time. When she said it, I thought it might be coincidence, but now you’re telling me it you felt it in exactly the same place. I think maybe-”
Faith angrily cut him off. “Hold up, you talked to B about this?” The idea that Buffy knew she was suffering lit a fire inside her.
“I had to go Sunnydale and we just talked, about a lot of things. She doesn’t know about you.”
Annoyed with herself for getting so wound up about it, Faith tried to pretend she hadn’t even said anything. “So, what, you think when B gets hurt I get the pain? You’re getting that from one sore gut?”
“It’s not just that, Faith. You said it usually feels like you’ve been in a fight, with something stronger than human. It mostly happens at night, and then it fades the next day. Patrol, fight, heal in the morning, I know the schedule.”
“Right,” Faith said grudgingly. Can’t even get away from her in here. “Any idea how it happened?”
“I don’t know. Magic, probably, but that’s a lot of ground to cover and I’m not exactly an expert.” Angel shrugged helplessly. “Do you want me to tell her?”
“Faith, I don’t think she’s going to want to hear it from you.”
“She’s not hearing it from anyone,” Faith said, glaring at him.
“Faith, what if it goes both ways? They need to know what’s happening.”
“If it goes both ways, they already know and they’re figuring out a way to stop it. If not… I don’t want them to know, I don’t need their help.” She was speaking more quickly than she wanted to, she almost sounded desperate. She made herself take a breath and slow down. “Look, Angel, I dig that you want to protect B, but it’ll be okay. I’ve got enough of a rep now that the girls don’t bother me, and I can play nice with the guards. B won’t get anything from me, I promise.”
“And what about you?”
“I can deal. I’m a Slayer; sore spots go with the job.”
“I don’t like this, Faith.”
“I’m not loving it either, but life’s not perfect, right? If it was, I’d be out there earning my aches for real.” She leaned forward, resting her arms on the bench between them, and tried to take things in a more cheerful direction. “So what else is going on in L.A.? And how come you’re making trips to Sunnydale, I thought you were a city boy now?” A flicker of sadness passed over Angel’s face. “Uh-oh, that’s not the happy look. I’m guessing you didn’t just go to catch up?”
“Joyce is dead.”
They talked for a while after that, but it all felt hazy and unreal, and as soon as Angel was gone Faith found that she couldn’t remember a word of it. She followed the guard back to her cell block without even being aware of where she was going, and it wasn’t until she was turned loose in the block that she started to think again.
The cells were almost deserted, most of the prisoners eking out the last bit of time in the day room before lock-up, but Faith felt no inclination to join them. She went straight to her cell and lay down on her bunk, trying to process what Angel had told her and the way it had made her feel. A cigarette appeared in her hand without her even thinking about it, the coils of smoke burning in lungs that weren’t used to it.
Joyce is dead. Every time she said the words in her mind she rejected the idea. Joyce was supposed to be permanent, the simple, caring background to everything that happened in Sunnydale. She didn’t go out on patrol, she didn’t fight, she wasn’t involved in the death and mayhem that bubbled under the surface, and if something did try to hurt her it was inevitable that Buffy would come to the rescue.
Except Buffy could only save her from monsters. The idea of a natural death in Sunnydale was almost perverse, and for someone in Buffy’s circle it was unthinkable, but it was true. After all the battles, all the pain and heartache, the real world had done what no demon had ever accomplished. Faith tried to imagine Buffy without her mother’s reassuring presence behind her, and it hurt her more than she could ever have thought possible. And Dawn…
She was still lying there when Cat came back to the cell at lock-up. “Hey, Beantown, where’d you get to?”
“Visitor.” She couldn’t muster the strength for more than a single word.
Cat’s good humour vanished as soon as she heard Faith’s voice. “Bad news?”
The sound of locks clunking into place echoed through the cell block. Guards marched past the cells, taking the final count of the day. Faith got to her feet and answered her name, then went back to sit on her bunk.
As the last sounds of lock-up faded, the bunk creaked and Faith felt Cat’s arm slip around her shoulders. She stiffened for a moment, ready to pull away, but the old instinct drowned under the tide of unexpected grief. Cat held her for a moment, and then whispered “You need to talk?”
“Someone… someone I knew died.”
Faith tapped her head. “Tumour, in here. They cut it out, and she was fine for weeks, and then… pop! She’s gone before you can blink.”
“She was your friend?”
Faith let out a brief, bitter laugh. “Not exactly.” She turned to look at her friend for the first time and saw the question on her face. “It’s complicated. She was a good person. It’s not right, Cat, this shouldn’t have happened to her.”
“I’m sorry, amiga. Sounds like there’s a lot of people that’s going to miss her.”
“Yeah. Yeah, a lot.” Faith tried to crush the tears she felt gathering, but only succeeded in spilling them down her cheeks. “God, look at me, my rep’s going to be in the tank after this.”
“It’s just you and me, chica. No-one’s going to know.” Cat’s voice was soft as she brushed a tear away with her thumb. The touch, like a caress on her skin, made Faith raise her eyes until they locked with her friend’s. They froze there for a moment, so close they could feel the heat from each other’s skin, then Faith suddenly pulled back, just enough to break the contact.
Cat turned away, not fast enough to hide the flare of red on her cheeks, and made a show of examining her thumb. “Good thing about being in here, no make-up to get all messed up.”
“No, it’s cool, you’re not into it.” Cat stood up, composing herself again. “I just thought maybe you didn’t want to be on your own tonight. Maybe you got someone on the outside waiting for you, I don’t know.”
“No, I don’t have anyone waiting, I just-”
“You’re not into it. It’s cool, no drama.” Cat swung herself up onto her bunk and out of sight. “Sleep tight, Beantown, catch you for the oat bran.”
“Night, Cat.” Faith curled up on her own bunk and wondered if she’d really heard the quiver in Cat’s voice.
Sunnydale, April 2001
As soon as Giles asked Buffy to meet him at his apartment rather than the Magic Box, she knew that whatever he wanted to talk about had to be serious, and when she arrived and found Willow and Tara already there, the list of possibilities dropped fast.
“Hey, guys,” she said as Giles let her in. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess this is about my little achy-breaky problem?” She caught sight of what was on the coffee table. “Uh-oh, tea and cookies already? I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“Erm, yes,” Giles said. He sounded nervous. “We did want to talk to you about the pains. Please, sit. How have they been lately?”
Buffy took the vacant spot on the end of the couch, beside the witches. “Better than before. Bump here, bang there, nothing major. I haven’t had one of the bad ones since, what, January?”
“Good, good, that might perhaps indicate that the effect is fading.” Giles settled himself in his armchair. “We believe we’ve identified the cause.”
When he didn’t say anything more, Buffy said “So, how are we going to do this? Charades? Pictionary? Twenty questions? Is it bigger than a breadbox? Giles, what am I dealing with here?”
“Well, it isn’t Glory, or the Knights of Byzantium, or-” Buffy arched an eyebrow at him. “I’m afraid it was us.”
“Us?” Buffy repeated. “Okay, in that case I think I’ll start with the ‘gee, thanks’ and then move onto the ‘huh?’”
“Buffy, you’re one of the ‘us’,” Willow said, very quietly. “You, me, Giles and Xander. We did this.”
“Did what? Will, what are we talking…” A switch clicked in Buffy’s brain. “That spell we did to fight Adam?”
“The enjoining spell, yeah.”
Buffy glanced over at Giles. “Dire consequences?”
“I did warn you.”
Buffy sighed. “What did we do?”
Willow glanced at Tara before she began. “Buffy, we checked everything we can think of before we got to this. We did detection spells, we checked your aura, researched every way we could find to cause pain at a distance. We had nothing, and then Tara suggested looking at the enjoining spell again.”
“The spell called on your connection to the source of the Slayer’s power, so the others could become a part of it and lend you their abilities,” Tara explained. “It also let you draw a lot more power into yourself, made you stronger than a normal Slayer would be. Everyone assumed your connection would go back to normal after the spell ended, but I don’t think it did. It’s not the supercharged version, but it’s stronger than it was.”
Giles agreed. “You have seemed somewhat stronger in recent months, Buffy. And you have been feeling a more… shall we say a more primal hunting instinct?”
“And there I was thinking all my workouts were paying off,” Buffy said with a scowl. “Okay, so I’m jacked in more than I was. Where does the pain fit? Is this Captain Cavegirl punishing me for taking the big slice of the pie? ‘Cause if it is, she’s really off her game.”
Willow shook her head. “That’s not it, Buffy. We had to do some really in-depth divinations to figure this out. The pain’s not coming from the source of your power, it’s more sort of echoing through it to you.”
“Echoing from where?” Buffy asked, worried by the look on her friend’s face. “This is the part I’m not going to like, isn’t it?”
“You’re…” Willow stopped and made herself look her friend in the face. “Buffy, you’re not the only one with a connection to that power.”
“Faith.” The name tasted like ashes in Buffy’s mouth. “God, she’s in jail and I still can’t get her out of my life! Why pain? Why couldn’t she just share her boredom with me, my whole life’s a cure for boredom.” She jumped to her feet and started pacing around the living room. “Is it just me, or does it go both ways?”
“We think both, but we’re not sure,” replied Willow.
“God, I hope so,” Buffy muttered. She looked down at her hands, turning them over, trying to imagine someone else feeling what she felt, then she took a pencil from Giles’ desk and dug the point into her palm. “Shouldn’t it hurt less, if she’s sharing it?” The glanced up, saw the others staring at her, and turned away for a moment. “Okay, I’ve got a hotline to Faith’s house of pain, how do we cut the cable?”
Giles looked at her warily. “I’m not entirely certain that we can.”
“Wrong answer, Giles,” she snapped. “I’ve got a crazy hellgod running all over town looking for my kid sister, who’s trying to get herself kicked out of school, the spirit guides who were supposed to help me say death is my gift, a neutered vampire thinks he’s in love with me and , oh yeah, my mom just died! I can’t deal with any more crap from my evil twin right now!”
“Buffy, I know that this is difficult, but you said yourself that the… attacks have dwindled almost to nothing.”
“Yeah, so far. What happens tomorrow? What if she gets a knife in the back, or mouths off to the guards, or passes the soap the wrong way? What if it happens when I’m toe-to-toe with Glory? I can’t afford that kind of distraction, not now.”
“I appreciate the potential danger, Buffy, but I’m afraid there may not be anything we can do. This is a part of your connection to the source of your power. It may not be possible to end this link to Faith without severing that connection, and the only way I know of to do that is death, so unless you’re suggesting we kill Faith…”
“Don’t tempt me,” Buffy growled, but they could all see she was just venting. “So what am I supposed to do?”
“For the moment, just be aware of what could happen and try to be ready for it,” Giles said. “In the meantime, perhaps we should contact Faith and see if the link does flow both ways.”
“No,” Buffy said flatly. “I don’t care how repenty Angel says she is, I’m not telling her she’s got an all-access pass to my nervous system. It’s not like she can do anything useful, anyway.”
“True. Buffy, if it makes you feel any better, if the link really is two-way, she’ll be suffering a great deal more than you.”
“You know what? It really doesn’t.”
Stockton, May 2001
Come on, B, give me a break…
As if in mockery of her wish, a fresh burst of pain flared in Faith’s arm, just below the elbow, adding to a collection of aches that had accumulated over the previous day. As much as she didn’t want to care, part of her wondered what had caused it all. She’d felt the effects of two separate fights during daylight, that alone was something new, and then a third, brief but painful, in the middle of the night. And now this, whatever the hell this was, at whatever unholy hour of the night it was happening.
Faith tried to open her eyes, but they felt like they’d been filled with sand and glued shut. When she finally did manage to force one eyelid open, she groaned. Enough light made it through the window to tell her that dawn was breaking, but at this time of year that meant wake-up time wasn’t going to be for a while yet. Damn, B, when did you turn into a morning person. This thing couldn’t wait a half hour?
Fatigue was already clawing at her, but she knew that if she let herself fall asleep again this late, she’d feel even worse when she had to get up for real. The question was, would her body give her a say in the matter? She hadn’t slept properly since Angel’s visit. Before, when she’d thought the pain was something random, she’d been able to live with it, hiding it during the day and ignoring it as best she could at night. If it came, it came, and if it woke her, it woke her, she’d be cranky the next day but she could deal with it. Now, everything was different. As insane as Angel’s theory was, it fitted too well for her not to believe it, and that had messed with her head until she wouldn’t let herself sleep, not until she was sure that she wouldn’t wake up feeling the echoes of another fight. She rarely got more than four hours sleep a night any more; nothing a Slayer couldn’t handle for a few nights, maybe even a couple of weeks, but whatever the limit was, she was past it now and the handful of catnaps she was able to snatch by day didn’t come close to making up for it.
A new wave of pain rippled from her face all the way down her front. It felt like she’d been flung unto a wall hard enough to knock the wind out of her, and she had to clench her teeth and grip the frame of her bunk to stop herself moving. The morning was going badly enough, the last thing she wanted to do was wake Cat up early. Nothing had been quite the same between them since the night Angel visited. Cat had tried to pass the whole thing off as just friendly comforting, and for a while Faith had been willing to accept that; since Michele explained the Rayna-Kara incident to her, she’d been looking more closely at the other inmates and she’d detected a number of relationships, and a good deal more casual ‘comforting’ going on. If Cat said that was all she was doing, Faith wasn’t going to call her a liar, and she felt a little guilty about how abruptly she’d turned down the offer.
As the days went by, though, she’d started to doubt what Cat was telling her. Something was different; a slight hesitation in Cat’s voice when they talked, a hurt look in her eyes when she thought Faith wasn’t looking. Once, when she was lying awake waiting to be sure that Buffy wasn’t going to get into a fight, Faith thought she overheard Cat crying in the darkness. She didn’t know how to respond to any of it, and as lack of sleep eroded her self-control she started to fear what she might say or do, so she started trying to avoid her cellmate when she could.
How the hell can prison be this complicated? It’s not like-
Every nerve in her body ignited at once, the agony so sudden and overwhelming that it paralysed her, pinned her to her bunk, eyes wide and staring into nothing, hands clutching at the sheets, unable to even scream. And when it ended, after a few endless seconds, the emptiness it left behind threatened to swallow her whole.
She barely registered anything that happened on the first day. When she looked back on it later, she got flashes of events - eating breakfast in the cafeteria, Cat trying to talk to her, two girls throwing down in the yard – but none of it felt entirely real, as though it was something she’d read about or seen on T.V., not something she’d lived. She couldn’t think, couldn’t even feel, until she woke in the middle of the night lying on a pillow wet with tears.
On the second day, Cat caught up to her as she wandered aimlessly around the yard. “What the hell’s with you, Beantown? You been like a zombie.”
“I… I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Come on, chica, we’re friends, yeah?” Cat glanced around, making sure no-one was close enough to overhear, but everyone else was too busy doing their own thing to bother them. Even so, she kept her voice down. “Look, people are talking. Rayna, Deb, some of the others, they think you’re losing it here. You got to snap out of it, like now.”
“Just leave me alone, Cat.” Faith stepped away, opening a gap between them. Cat reached out and tried to pull her back, but Faith turned on her, snarling. “I said leave me alone!”
For a second Cat just stared at her, the shocked look on her face giving way to distress, then she shook her head and turned away. “Vaya con dios, amiga.” She walked away and didn’t look back.
With her went Faith’s one connection to the rest of their enclosed world. All the prisoners Faith knew through Cat took a step away, leaving her in her own little bubble. She started to notice the looks she was getting from some of the prisoners, the furtive glances and whispered conversations that stopped when she came close. Even the guards started taking more notice of her, as though they knew something was going to happen to her. Some part of her recognised it all, but the hole inside her ached so much that she couldn’t bring herself to care.
It might have been a week later – she’d stopped keeping track of the days – when one of the guards called her out of the day room and led her from the cell block. She followed him automatically, not even wondering where she was going, until she walked into the visiting room and saw the man waiting on the other side of the glass.
His hair was greyer than she remembered and looked like it hadn’t been brushed for days. His eyes were red from lack of sleep. More than that, he looked hollow, as though the core he’d built his life around had been taken from him. Just for a second, Faith wondered if she looked as bad as him, and the thought lit a spark of pride in her. Not self-respect, it was the old, cheap pride that refused to let anyone see her suffering. She straightened up, squaring her shoulders as she took the chair opposite him and picked up the phone. “Giles.”
“Faith.” He sounded exhausted. “Are you all right?”
“Five by five,” she replied with a careless shrug.
“You look awful.”
“Checked a mirror lately?”
He looked at her for a moment, considering a reply, then decided it would be better to just move on. “There’s something you need to know. A few days ago-”
Her voice was completely flat and emotionless, but he flinched as though she’d struck him. “So the link does go both ways.”
“Guess it did. So, what, you guys were saving the news for my Christmas card?”
“We discussed telling you, and we concluded that it wouldn’t accomplish anything. There was nothing you could do, and-”
She cut him off again. “B figured if I knew, I’d start pulling out my fingernails to get at her.”
“It was a consideration. Can you blame us?”
Faith leaned forward, elbows on the desk, staring aggressively through the glass. “Got a little update for you, Rupert: I’m over her. I’m over all of you, the Sunnydale scene, put the whole damn thing in my rear-view. You guys are the ones holding the bygones.”
“And yet I can’t recall hearing anything from you about any of this.”
“Oh sure, and you guys were all waiting by the phone, just dying to hear my voice again.”
Anger flared behind his eyes, but he shook it off and said quietly “Faith, I didn’t come here to fight with you.”
“Sure, you’re just here to spread the word.” Faith hesitated, not wanting to ask the question that had burned in her mind for days. “It was something big, right? No way she went down to some random vamp.”
“It was important. End of the world.”
“Same old, same old.” She felt tears forming again and ploughed on, hoping to distract herself. “You talked to Angel?”
“Willow went to tell him. I understand he’s gone away for a while, a spiritual retreat somewhere.”
She felt a brief surge of anger that he’d left without telling her, and hated herself for being so selfish. “I guess he took it hard,” she said quietly. “So how come you’re taking a day to play messenger, Giles? Shouldn’t you be breaking in the new girl?”
“There is no new girl.”
“What?” She was sure she’d heard him wrong.
“No new Slayer has been called, Faith.”
“That’s got to be a mistake,” she insisted. “Come on, we both know how this works. Soon as one of us kicks it, some girl gets a boatload of nightmares and starts opening beer bottles with her pinkie. You just haven’t found her yet. You guys missed Buffy for years.”
“Missing a potential Slayer is one thing, Faith,” Giles said. “As careful as the Council is, it does happen, probably more than we think. Missing a new Slayer is something else entirely; there are signs, mystical indicators. When… when Buffy was called, they knew she was in Los Angeles within hours. I’m sorry, Faith, it’s just you now.”
They’re going to kill me. Faith’s head slumped as the thought ran through her mind. Part of her was terrified, another part welcomed it, and as she tried to reconcile the two she almost missed what Giles said next.
He lowered his voice, making sure no-one could overhear him. “It’s time to come home.”
“…no…” The denial wasn’t so much spoken as released on her breath, an instinctive rejection of the idea of her leaving.
Maybe he didn’t hear her, maybe he was ignoring her, but when he spoke it sounded like he was repeating a message verbatim. “The Council have informed me that they are arranging to have you extradited to Britain, where you will be removed to their custody.”
“Subject to the results of a new evaluation, and following completion of any necessary rehabilitation and retraining, you are to be returned to active duty under a Watcher to be determined at a later date, with your primary responsibility being-”
“No!” She flung herself back from the desk, overturning her chair as she scrambled away from him. She yelled through the glass “You tell them to stay the hell away from me!”
She snatched up the phone again. “They come anywhere near me, I’ll kill them all, you got that?” She flung it down and stormed away. The guard at the door opened it before she arrived, and she never broke stride, leaving Giles staring uselessly at her back.
She couldn’t escape, though. By the time she was back in the cell block, walking into the day room, her blood was pounding in her ears and her chest felt like it would explode. It was as though seeing him had brought everything into focus; the rage, the pain, the hopelessness was all poured into a voice that screamed in the back of her mind.
It’s your fault.
You should have been there.
You let her die.
She almost fell onto a chair at one of the tables, clutching her head. “Stop it, stop it, please…”
Someone nearby whispered “Hey, check it, looks like she’s cracking.” Faith glanced up and saw a group of prisoners standing a few yards away, staring at her. She didn’t even register their faces, only the contemptuous smirks and the condescension in their voices, and something inside her broke.
She grabbed hold of the edge of the table and flung it aside, the bolts that had held it in place torn free or sheared off. Shouts of surprise and alarm echoed through the room, but she didn’t even hear them as she leapt at the woman who’d whispered and knocked her to the floor. The rest of the gang scattered in all directions as Faith began raining blows on her victim.
She never remembered when she started to scream. She never remembered how many punches she threw, how often she slammed the girl’s head against the floor with the force of her blows. It might have been two, or five, or ten before boots pounded on the floor, and then someone hooked a nightstick around her throat and dragged her off. She struggled for a moment, then she just covered her head and let them do what they wanted to her, the pain meaningless now that it was hers alone.
Someone hit her in the stomach and she crumpled to the floor. A boot struck her low in the back, and she heard Hartson’s voice. “Get the bitch into the Hole, now! And tell the doc to get a blood sample, I want to know what the hell she’s on.”
They shackled her hands behind her back and dragged her away. They tossed her into a tiny cell and slammed the door behind her. As they walked away, Faith curled up on the floor with her arms around her head, and wept.