Water dripping. That was the only sound. No voices, no footsteps, not even the sound of her own breathing. She hated solitary. Inactivity had never been easy for her. Here, it was all she had. She was huddled into a ball, bruised and bleeding from the various injuries the batons wielded by the guards had left her. They had taken her by the infirmary, she knew, because she could feel the tightness around her chest that meant her ribs had been wrapped again. But she had awakened in solitary. Again.
Julissa Barrios hated having duty in solitary. Bad enough she had been transferred to this antique from Valley State, where she normally worked. Valley State was still a prison, but at least it was relatively modern. The California Institution for Women, where she had been transferred for a month of temporary duty, was the first women's prison facility the State of California had ever built, and it showed. Not only that, but it had a reputation for weirdness. Something about its central location to the state resulted in every weirdo in the prison system being dumped here, or the companion facility for men down the road. She didn't like it. And she hated duty in solitary. Especially when she only had one 'guest' to keep an eye on.
The 'guest' in question had not moved since they brought her in twelve hours ago. Julissa had seriously thought about going in to check on her, but she had been given specific orders not to enter the cell for any reason. They had been very, almost obsessively, clear on that one. She didn't know why, because the prisoner she had seen them bring in looked like a mass of blood and bruises to her. She had questioned that, because even if she was just temping in this facility, she didn't hold with brutality. But then her supervisor had shown her the yard observation tapes. She had never seen anyone move like that.
The tape had shown a scuffle, already in progress, between her current guest and another inmate, who was still in the infirmary. The tape had not shown how the fight started, but it made the end very clear. Her 'guest' had hit the other inmate something like twelve times in 3.5 seconds, breaking said inmates' left ankle, right knee, 4 ribs, her right wrist, her left collarbone, her jaw, and fracturing her skull. Not to mention kicking her halfway across the yard. That was why Julissa hadn't gone in to check on her.
The reason she was still considering it, however, was because she had not injured a single guard, even though they had swarmed over her with batons and beat the living shit out of her. That kind of self-control after a fight said that this one was special. Julissa didn't know much about her, but she knew that she could have given the yard bosses a hell of a fight if she had wanted to. To Julissa, that meant she had a chance.
Julissa was a big believer in chances. It was the whole reason she was in this line of work, after all. Five years ago she was pretty sure she would be spending her life on the other side of the bars. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles would do that to you. To anyone. She had run with the toughest girl-gang that would have her, and at sixteen she had already compiled a juvenile rap sheet that any banger in the city would be proud of.
Then she had met Kate. Just another do-gooder white cop, at first. It had been Kate that had turned her around, made her see what she was becoming. Kate had checked her out of juvy on her day off, and taken Julissa on a cop's tour of the city. She had seen, for the first time, where she was really going. Kate had taken her door-to-door in some of the neighborhoods, and introduced her to the mothers of some of the kids who were buying the drugs that she and her friends sold. She had taken her to the graveyards and the tombstones of the innocents killed in drive-bys. And then she had said, "How many old 'bangers you know?" And by that time, Julissa had come around enough to think about it. Not a lot. But enough.
Five years later, she had a high-school equivalency degree, an associates in corrections, and she was trying to return the favor. She was trying to give some of these others a second chance. She was no starry-eyed idealist, thinking that everyone could be saved if you just told them what they did was wrong. She had been around that block, and knew just how easy it was to get sucked into the darkness. No, she was looking for the ones that still remembered the light. If they could still remember why what they did was wrong, they had a chance.
She was pretty sure that this one remembered. Which is why she was standing outside the cell door, wondering what to do. She wasn't supposed to go in, but that didn't mean she couldn't open the isolation door and talk through the bars. Maybe that would give her a better idea if this one was worth it.
Faith tensed when she heard the isolation door unlock. She wasn't sure how long she had been here, being locked up in the dark was a good way to screw with your internal clock, but despite the eternity it felt like, she was pretty sure it had only been a half-day or so. She had been brought in in the middle of the day, or at least that was when she had gotten jumped in the yard, and the fact that her bruises had all healed but her ribs hadn't meant that it hadn't been much more than ten or twelve hours.
Which meant that they probably weren't letting her out already, unless the "She started it" defense had suddenly gained some validity, which she doubted. So the guards were probably coming to teach another lesson to the 'troublemaker.' She had had three or four serious beatings in the fourteen weeks she had been here, all delivered by guards. The inmates had tried to contribute to that count, as well, but she didn't have to take it from them. She couldn't bring herself to take it from them. She had tried, but some deep core of herself still maintained that she had enough right to life, to existence, that it wouldn't let her submit to the inmates. They were too much like her, and her mother, and the evil things in the dark that she used to fight. She couldn't submit to them, even though she wanted to.
The guards were another matter. The guards represented Justice. She could let them beat her. She deserved it. It took every ounce of her self-control, but she could do it. She could let them kill her. But they never did. They would beat her unconscious, but they never killed her. But there was always next time.
The isolation door opened, and Faith could feel the light from the block hitting her eyelids. She didn't open her eyes, or move. It was the middle of the night, she could tell by the way her senses were alive and screaming. That meant a beating. But she could tell there was only one person outside her door. That was new. Usually they wouldn't even come near her cell unless there were five or six of them. She wasn't sure why they were so wary of her; she had never even hit a guard. Maybe what she did to her fellow inmates was enough.
Her cell door didn't open, and whoever was outside didn't go away, and Faith had never been good at the waiting game. Even though that was the only one she played anymore, really. She opened her eyes, and sat up with a sigh.
"I hope I didn't wake you," came quietly from the door.
She turned to look at the speaker for the first time, and considered what she saw. Short, almost as short as Buffy. The mental anguish wrapped around that name had her moving on quickly. Beefy, like most of the guards, but that could be just because of all the protective gear they wore. It was hard to wear a Class III vest and still look svelte. Nightstick, heavy-duty taser, pepper spray. Standard equipment for CIW. Faith hadn't exactly been given a tour, but she had heard some things while she worked for the Mayor. CIW was where the weirdoes went. She felt right at home.
She realized that the other woman was still looking at her, so she figured she'd take advantage of the opportunity for a little conversation. "What do you want?"
"Just wanted to see how you were doing. You haven't moved since they brought you in, and I was worried. Are you in a lot of pain? I can send down to the infirmary for some painkillers-"
"Okay." Julissa said. She was a little surprised, not many inmates would turn down painkillers, but that was probably a good sign. If she was clean, there was a good chance that-
Her thoughts cut off as Faith rose to her feet without a trace of stiffness and walked to the small sink in the wall. Cupping her hands under the faucet, she carefully cleaned her face as best she could with her hands, and pulled her hair back. Turning off the water, she walked slowly towards the door, and Julissa gasped as Faith came into the light from the doorway and she got her first good look at her.
There was no sign of the bruising, black eyes, or split lips that she was expecting. She knew they should be there, because she had seen Faith when they brought her in. She remembered thinking that the girl was lucky to have kept all her teeth, as bad as her mouth had been. But the girl standing before her now showed no sign of injury. She looked younger, standing here without makeup, than she did in her records. She had lost weight, too. The pictures in her files showed a healthy, muscular, well-endowed eighteen year-old. Standing here before her, Julissa thought she looked more like fourteen. She was a lot skinnier than she had been when she was arrested, and the lack of makeup gave her nothing to hide behind. Looking into her eyes was like staring into hell.
Julissa remembered that look. She had seen it in the mirror every day. For years.
Time to get this conversation rolling. She sat down on the folding chair she had brought with her, and gestured for Faith to sit, as well. Faith just looked at her. Oh, well, not everything goes like you plan.
"My name is Julissa. Julissa Barrios. It looks like you are going to be stuck with me for a couple of weeks, so I thought I would introduce myself." No response, but Faith was still looking at her. Keep going. "I normally work at Valley State, up north, but they needed someone down here for a month, and when you're new in the Corrections field, they transfer you around a bit." Still no response, but she hadn't looked away or lain back down, so maybe this was getting somewhere. "Right now you're the only person in this block, besides me, and the silence was driving me crazy, so I figured that I would come talk to you. Or at you, as it seems to be working out, but better to talk at you than to talk to myself, right?"
"I don't like the silence, either." The response was quiet, the voice a little husky, like she wasn't used to talking. Now to just keep her going.
"Too much time to think. Thinking has never been my strong point. Seems like every time I start thinking about things, they all fall apart."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Why do you care?" came the sharp response, and for the first time, Julissa heard a hint of real emotion in it. There was pain, and self-loathing, but there was also fear, and loneliness. This one had been burned, and burned bad. Maybe worse than her. For the first time, Julissa was actually glad she had been transferred down here. Maybe there was a reason. Maybe there was something she could do. But she had to be very careful.
"Maybe I don't," she responded after a beat. "Maybe I'm just killing time, looking for someone to talk to. What difference does it make? I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know, right? I mean, if you just want to sit here in the dark-"
"No!" It was halfway between a scream and a sob, and Julissa sat back down quickly. She hadn't really intended to leave, but she felt guilty anyway. She pushed it aside; she had to do plenty of things she didn't like in her line of work. Sometimes you had to hurt them a little, to get them to heal. It was sort of like setting a bone, but for the soul. But broken bones usually healed in a few months. Damaged souls could take lifetimes. She should know, she was still working on hers.
"Okay. So, how do things fall apart? I mean, most people, they wind up in here because they don't think enough, right? So when you say that thinking about things makes them fall apart, you can see why I'm a little curious."
Faith sat down on the floor and looked at her keeper for a moment, while she considered how to answer that question. Julissa had black hair and the olive complexion that went with her name. Dark brown eyes looked at her with a kind of friendly disinterest that she found strangely appealing. She had never really talked about any of her problems to anyone before. Everyone else who had tried to get her to open up had some personal interest in her. Or meant something to her. She hadn't been able to tell Buffy, because she had feared the look of pity that she knew she would never be able to get away from. And Angel, well, he may have been able to identify with her dark side, but he doubted he knew much about abused twelve-year-old girls. And he was a man. Sort of.
Maybe it would help. And anything was better than sitting her in the dark, alone.
"My name is Faith. But you probably already knew that, right? Files and stuff. So I'm from Boston, but you probably already knew that, too. I grew up there, with my mom. I don't really want to talk about her right now, if you don't mind, but suffice it to say that my home life left a lot to be desired. So finally one day I got out, and hooked up with this woman who took care of me and gave me some purpose and made me feel, for the first time in my life, that I might be worth something. I can't really go into details, not right now, but right about the time I started to believe, really believe, that maybe she was right, I screwed up and she wound up dead. So I took off, and ended up in Sunnydale. You know where Sunnydale is? Anyway, so in Sunnydale, I started to pick up the pieces. I made a friend, someone who I had something in common with, although not very much, truth be told. I mean, we had totally different lives, and stuff, but inside, where it counts, we were the same.
She tried, I see that now, but at the time all I saw was what I didn't have. It was good at first, but once I started thinking about it, all I saw was what I didn't have. I saw her mother, and her friends, and her Watcher, and her nice house, and her school, and all I saw was that I didn't have any of those things, and I never would. I could have, all I had to do was ask, but I'm not so good at that, so I just resented. I sat and stewed until I was good and convinced that she was the reason I didn't have any of those things, and then I tried to take them all away from her. I did some terrible things to a bunch of people, but it was all to hurt her. So eventually I pushed her too far, backed her into a corner, and she stabbed me and threw me off a roof, and I wound up in a coma, which wasn't really what I had in mind, because that left me WAY too much time to think, so when I came out I went after her again, and this time I did it right, I crept into her life and was going to screw it up good, and then take off."
Faith was standing up, now, pacing back and forth with energy that had to be released as she told this tale, told it as honestly as she could, like she never had before. "But I couldn't. I mean, I saw what she had, and I wanted it. All I had to do was leave, and I could have started over somewhere else, a new life, but it still would have been me, and I would have screwed it up. So I tried to be her, instead, and I liked it. I liked being the hero, the good guy. I had forgotten how good it felt, that look in their eyes when you save them. But I waited to long, and she caught me and took it all back. So I hit the road, came to LA looking for something. I didn't really know what, but I think I knew that he was there, and that he could help me, one way or another. He surprised me, though, he didn't kill me. I tried everything I could think of, and he wouldn't kill me. So I came here. After all, I'm evil, and this is where they put you when you're bad."
Faith stopped pacing as she finished speaking, and just stood, and only then did she realize that she had tears running down her face. She had not cried since that night in the rain with Angel, and that had been the first time in years. Crying had always made her feel weak, before. It was different, this time. The tears felt cleansing.
Julissa had sat quietly as Faith had gone on a rant, which she had not expected, but she was quick to take advantage of it. Rants were good. Once you got all of it out in the open like that, you couldn't pretend you didn't know what you were doing anymore. She just had to figure out what it all meant, which she certainly wasn't going to do in one night. But it was a start.
"I don't think you're evil."
Faith's eyes snapped back to the door. She had almost forgotten that the guard was still there. She had been so wrapped up in what was coming out of her, that she had forgotten what started it. Now that she remembered, she felt her walls coming back up, the old defenses coming into play. With an effort, she fought them down. She was in prison, after all, there were plenty of walls already. She was here to be punished, and the least she could do was be honest with herself, and apparently this stranger, about what she was here to be punished for. "You obviously don't know what I've done," she said.
"I don't know about that. According to your file, and you're right, I have seen it, you confessed to killing the Deputy Mayor of Sunnydale, while still a minor, killing Professor Lester Worth, also while still a minor, and several aggravated assault and battery charges in Los Angeles, which are what you are in jail for. The district attorney declined to prosecute you on the murder charges, despite your confession, due to lack of evidence and the fact that you were still a minor at the time they were committed. You're mostly here because you declined a public defender at your trial, and you would have been eligible for parole in another two months if you would stop putting your fellow inmates into the infirmary." Julissa sat back after that, waiting to see if Faith gave her the response she was expecting.
"I don't deserve to be paroled. That's not half what I've done, it's just that nobody would have believed any of the other things."
That was about what she had been expecting. Except for the nobody believing her part, that was a little unusual, but it was obvious that she felt she deserved to be punished. That made Julissa's job a little easier, at least the part where making her realize what she had done was wrong was already taken care of, although it looked like the realization had nearly destroyed Faith when it hit her, which was going to make the healing a little harder. Now she just had to be taught to see that just because she had made mistakes, didn't mean that she should be destroyed. She had to see that there was something in her worth saving.
Julissa just had to figure out how to do it.
"I don't deserve to be paroled. That's not half what I've done, it's just that nobody would have believed any of the other things." The voice coming out of the recorder stopped as Julissa stopped and rewound the tape. She carried a micro-cassette recorder in her breast pocket, because she knew how easy it was to miss the little, crucial details in these conversations. She was sitting in the kitchenette of the little hole-in-the-wall motel room they had rented her for the month that she would be down here, making notes on her conversation with Faith and trying to figure out what to do next. They had talked for the rest of her shift that night, about little things, almost as if they hadn't both listened to Faith pour out her soul earlier. They both knew it had happened, but once they got it out of the way, they were able to ignore it and just chat about nothing in particular. She had learned about some of Faith's hobbies, enough to know she would appreciate the MP3 player that she had loaded up with some high-energy dance tunes for her to listen to, and she had some other things in mind. But she had some calls to make, and she had to decide what the best course of action would be for the future. She was only down here for a month, after all. She would have most if not all of that month with Faith, because the girl was sure to be in solitary for the next three or four weeks, at least, but what about after that? It wouldn't do much good to get the girl to open up to her just in time for her to go back to Valley State. Unless she could get the girl transferred…
It bore thinking on. But first she had to see what kind of progress she could make while Faith was in solitary.
* * * * * * * *
Step, step, step, turn. Step, step, step, turn. Faith was pacing again. Usually when she was in solitary, she just sat on the mattress in the corner and brooded. She was getting almost as good as Angel. But today she couldn't. She didn't know why, but she thought it had something to do with that guard from last night. Julissa. Her name was Julissa. She didn't know why, but she was kind-of hoping that Julissa would come back tonight. She said she was going to be the nightshift guard for the next month. That didn't necessarily mean that she was going to come talk to Faith, but for some reason, Faith thought that Julissa would be back. And she wanted to talk to her again. It had felt good to talk to her, and not care what she thought. She had expected her to leave after listening to Faith rant about all her murders and stuff, but she hadn't. She had stayed, and they had talked about inconsequential things, like music and TV shows and how bad the food was. It had been nice.
She stopped pacing when she heard the isolation door unlock. She tensed, unsure whether it was the beating she was still half-waiting for, then relaxed a little when she saw it was Julissa. She started to tense up again when she saw the bag in her hands, but Julissa just dropped it next to the door as she sat down in the chair.
"So, Faith, how was your day?" she asked.
"Oh, it was great," she replied sarcastically. "I got up and took a long, hot bath, then went for a nice jog along the beach. Then I jumped into my Mercedes, drove into the city, and had a shopping spree along Rodeo drive. After that, I got my hair and nails done at the boutique, and listened to my hairdresser gossip. Finally, I had dinner with an old friend at a four-star restaurant, and we drove up to the cliffs and talked about the good old days while we waited for the moon to rise." She regretted the outburst instantly, but it seemed that her first instinctive response to any friendly gesture was to drive people away. She waited for Julissa to close the door again, to leave her alone again, but the other woman just sat there looking at her for a moment, and then said something that caught Faith completely by surprise.
"Have you ever had your nails done?"
"No," she replied. "I never really had any girl friends growing up, and in Sunnydale, well, we had other bonding activities."
Faith walked towards the barred door, and watched in surprise again as Julissa pulled a small folding stool, the kind made for camping, out of the bag at her feet. She carefully worked it through the bars, and then unfolded it and sat it in front of the door. "Sit down," she said. Faith sat. "Put your hands through the bars." Faith did so, and waited for the inevitable handcuffs. They didn't come. Instead, Julissa reached back into her bag and came out with a nail file, a small orange tapered rod, and several small bottles. She looked briefly at Faith's fingers, and then selected several bottles, which she placed on the floor next to her feet. Placing the nail file and the small orange stick on her knee, she picked up the largest of the bottles at her feet and poured some of its contents into the palm of her left hand. Faith's eyes widened in shock as she realized that the petite guard intended to give her a manicure. She resisted her initial impulse to stand up and back away from the door, and instead closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the bars, and closed her eyes as Julissa began to massage her fingertips with some kind of oil.
It had been so long. So long since she had had any kind of positive human contact. She felt the tears beginning to run down her cheeks again, but she didn't want this moment to end, so she didn't say anything. She just sat there with tears rolling down her face, while a virtual stranger rubbed her hands, and she couldn't remember the last time she had felt this good. And then she heard Julissa speak.
"So my Mima, my grandmother, she calls me today from Florida. My brother and I moved her out there last year, because we both have jobs that require us to move around a lot and we didn't want to leave her alone in the city. She has a brother and sister in Miami, and they spend all their time together cooking and gossiping and she called to share the latest with me," she said, and then went on about the happenings in Florida while she continued Faith's manicure.
She's gossiping, Faith realized. Just like a real manicurist. The thought caused a choked little laugh to come out, and then another, a little more natural. Then she opened her eyes and watched Julissa's face as she babbled on about her grandmother and her Florida relations.
Later, after the manicure, Faith told Julissa a little bit about Boston, growing up in Southie. She didn't go into much detail, but Julissa got enough to confirm some guesses she had already made about an alcoholic parent and abuse. She left the MP3 player and headset with Faith before she left, and got the names of some songs and bands she liked. She also came to a decision, although she didn't share it with Faith. She needed some more background, things she couldn't ask Faith directly.
Kate had been surprisingly hostile with Julissa when she found out who she was calling about, but she had given her some names, and some phone numbers. The P.I. she had called, with the unlikely name of Angel, had been wary, but helpful once he found out why she was calling. The girl in Sunnydale had hung up on her, once she made sure that Faith was still in jail. That must be the one Faith had tried to hurt. She would have to get that story from Faith directly.
The next night, Julissa told Faith about growing up in South Central. About the gangs, and the drugs, and her first drive-by. The rush. And the guilt. She surprised herself by crying about it again, while she was telling the tale. And Faith had surprised her by reaching through the bars and wiping the tears from her face with incredibly gentle hands.
The night after that, she had helped Faith wash and brush her long, dark hair. And Faith had told her about her mother, and her mother's boyfriends. She hadn't been able to look at Julissa while she was talking about it, and Julissa knew, from experience, that Faith expected her to be disgusted, and blame her. So she told Faith about her own mother, and her crack habit, and the beatings, and the boyfriends, and finding her dead one night from an OD.
And so it went. By the time Faith was release from solitary, Julissa had pulled enough strings to get her transferred up to Valley State. She had also convinced her to take the GED, and work on some college correspondence courses. Julissa had pointed out that she would be released sooner or later, and it would be a lot easier for her to stay on the straight and narrow if she had some legitimate qualifications for a job. So Faith had enrolled in correspondence courses. She didn't really see herself as an auto-mechanic, but she liked cars, and especially motorcycles, so what the hell, right? She'd see where this took her…