I knew something was seriously wrong even before I saw him. For one thing, he was late - he's never ever late, no matter how busy he's been, no matter how worn or tired he looks or how bad he's had the shit kicked out of him. For another, call me crazy, but I'd had this unsettled feeling all day - a shadow of the old, wordless panic that used to hit me when Pop had been drinking, and I could feel his eyes on me, and I knew that demands were about to be made that I had no power to deny.
When he finally walked in, I hardly recognized him. I've known he was, like, two hundred and fifty since I met him, but I had never really seen it before today. Something had aged him practically overnight, pouching his eyes, hollowing his cheeks. He moved with a slow, unsteady shuffle instead of his usual confident grace.
It took him forever to reach the chair and settle awkwardly into it, facing me. His eyes were twin black holes, ancient and fathomless. I couldn't look into them for long; I felt like I was drowning, falling into them along with all the light in the room.
When he spoke, it was with a dry, husky rattle that stumbled and fell off almost at once. "Faith-" It was like someone had sucker punched him and he was still struggling to draw breath. Which, of course, is kinda funny when I think of it, 'cause vampires don't need to breathe. His eyes flickered away, then back. "Buffy's dead."
A queer, sudden pain wrung my heart and then released it, causing shudders to sing down my spine. The edges of my vision darkened and swam. For a minute I thought I might vomit.
Buffy. B. My brave, beautiful baby, B. We danced in graveyards with vampires 'til dawn. We laughed in the faces of demons, never afraid to burn. But in the end, it doesn't take much to rip us into pieces.
I swallowed hard past the bile that threatened to choke me and still only managed to rasp out one word. "How?"
The corner of his mouth twitched, then twisted into a grotesque parody of his familiar grin. "Saving the world."
As if I ever doubted that.
Angel didn't seem to have any more to say. We sat in silence, each secretly wondering what people would say about us when we died. Would they remember the murderous monsters or the penitents haunted by their crimes? I knew what you would say. Would have said.
Abruptly I couldn't be in the same room with him anymore. I pushed away from the window, bracing myself on the chair so that I wouldn't fall over. "I gotta go."
"Wait, Faith-" He revived a little and leaned forward, his voice low but urgent. "You know what this means."
"Yeah," I said, wiping my hands on my coveralls so that he wouldn't see them trembling. I drew a deep, shaky breath and met his eyes again just for a moment. "It means that I'm alone."
And then, before he could make a move to contradict or comfort me, I ran out of the room.
I feel like I owe you an explanation.
Jail's really not as bad as all that, you know? For all the imposed limitations, all the obligatory little humiliations, it's a safe and structured sort of place. I know exactly what's expected of me, when and where to go and what to say and do.
Sure, there ain't much TLC to go around here, unless you want to become the bitch of some big bertha, but that's okay too - you don't expect any, so you're never disappointed.
And being a Slayer, I've got it pretty good here. When I first arrived, a lot of the bull dykes would eye me, and I could practically see the wheels turning in their heads: lush hair, big boobs, nice ass, and she's *small*, we can take her no problem. Which made it rough for a few days because for the first time in my life, I really wasn't looking for any trouble. But luckily, I didn't have to do too much damage before some of them wised up and spread the word not to fuck with me, and now I'm left pretty much alone.
Point is, I was really starting to get in the groove here. Eating my meals, working my shifts, exercising in my cell, reading the occasional paper from the outside, and looking forward to my weekly visit from him. Being good. Resisting temptation. And now, all of a sudden, everything's changed. I'm the Chosen One, and I'm sitting on my thumb in a jail cell while hell does its damnedest to break loose.
But I just don't know if I'm ready to be out there again, B.
Dusk, sliding swiftly into night. The moon is rising over your shoulder, pale and swollen with promise. Your skin shines serenely silver, and I run in your shadow. Our boots pound the pavement in unison. We are invincible. Inseparable. The Chosen Two.
Suddenly something goes wrong. I can no longer see the path straight ahead of us, and I stumble, swear, fall to my hands and knees. When I get up again, there is blood on my palms, black under the moon.
I call for you to wait up. You glance back, pity plain in your eyes, but your stride doesn't falter. I stagger after you, unable to gain ground. The distance stretches between us. A stitch stings my side and every breath burns in my breast.
I can't reach you.
I can't reach you.
When I wake up, my face is wet. I've kicked off the covers and the sheets are soaked with sweat. Must be about midnight; my cellblock is silent. I get myself a glass of water and gulp it down, waiting for my heartbeat to slow.
Eventually I lie down again and close my eyes. I try to summon you again, your smile, your scent, the soft strength of your hand in mine, but you elude all of my efforts. Near dawn I finally drift off, still waiting for you to return.
It begins with little things, a backed up toilet, smacks on the behind, gusts of sour air.
I wake up in the morning with my neck is stiff and sore; the pillow has been pushed aside and somehow become wedged next to the wall. The wastebasket isn't where I keep it, next to my little desk in the corner, it's beside my bed, and I stumble into it and curse.
When these minor irritations don't work, you grow bolder. One day my hairbrush is nowhere to be found, so I fingercomb best I can until it reappears late afternoon, floating in the commode with shit stuck to the bristles. My mattress mildews and my coveralls grow mold.
This morning, merely looking in a mirror shattered it.
I couldn't see you at all, at first. I still can't directly, or in strong light. But if I focus on something else in front of me, sometimes I can catch a glimpse of something, a pale blur, a flutter of color out of the corner of my eye. If I could just turn my head fast enough, I would catch you.
No one else ever seems to notice any of this. It's always, "Faith, what did you do to your shoes?" or "Faith, stop squirming and concentrate." Sometimes I wonder if I'm losing it, if something deep down has finally snapped. I want to ask Angel about it, and yet part of me is glad that he's not around, that he's off mourning in some remote monastery. That you're here for me alone.
Midnight at the Bronze, the music throbbing up through the soles of our feet, a ring of aroused adolescent boys egging us on. My hands on your hips as we shimmy and sway, drunk on the dust from our latest kill and the thick haze of hormones. Your eyes half-closed, your mouth half-open, your beautiful body moving in time with mine. I lean in, and your lips are soft and cool, and you taste like a margarita, sharp, sweet tang of tequila and lime and the afterbite of salt.
I slide my fingers up your spine, up the nape of your neck, into the thick, heavy silk of your hair. But then I tug at it, just a little, and to my horror, it comes away in my hand, the strands suddenly bone-dry and brittle.
A sickly sweet smell stains the air like attar of roses, and I jerk back from the sudden foulness of your mouth. The firmness of your hip begins to give under the pressure of my hand.
I gag, watching you wither, your smooth flesh changing color and sagging like rotten fruit. You haven't stopped dancing, but your skin slips off your skeleton in shiny sheets and crumples onto the floor. White worms wriggle from the obscene empty orbits that were your eyes.
Twisting my head violently away, I wake to sour saliva and stale air.
The petty torments continue. I haven't seen myself in days, but white hairs are appearing in my brush. When I press my fingertips to my face, I can feel the tender purple bruises under my eyes from too many sleepless nights. I see everything through a shimmery haze that makes me tear up and squint until my sockets ache and throb.
One day, I turn my head fast enough.
And you're here. Intact. Radiant. Sitting cross-legged on the thin mattress next to me, your hair loose on your shoulders, your face questioning and perfectly still.
"What are you doing here?"
Your eyes are huge and luminous. "I want you to touch me on the inside part."
My hand reaches for you of its own accord, and I pull it back, angry. "What do you want? Why are you doing this to me?"
I shiver as your lips brush my ear: "Call me by my name."
"Buffy," I breathe. "Beloved. B," and the air has taken on a texture, a richness, that has everything to do with your face so close to mine.
For just a second, dry heat, distant howls, and a bed of bones shimmer behind your eyes. Then you blink, slowly, languidly, like a lazy caress, the strange sensation vanishes, and it's just sweetness and skin and your mouth on mine. For once, I sleep long and deeply, my arms wrapped around you and your hair spread out on the pillow like a shower of gold.
For a few days, you seem to be content with this. But eventually my tenderness is no longer enough. You grow petulant, sulky; what little I own is quickly broken, smashed against the walls, trodden underfoot. I hate the way we fight; it's never clean blows in this cramped space but yanked hair, scratching, and cruel pinches as I sleep. And always, always, your pleas, cajoling, threats, demands.
"I can't do it, B. I can't go out there again. I don't want to be a killer."
"You have no choice," comes the hiss. "Death is your art. You are the Slayer."
"No! Please!" All I want is to be good. All I want is for you to love me.
"You cowardly little bitch! You lazy, good for nothing slut!" The slap flashes out of nowhere, your nails raking my face.
I cringe in the corner, arms raised to ward off your wrath. "I'm sorry!"
Lights and shouting. Brightness floods my room from the corridor.
"Faith! What the fuck is going on here?" It's Warden, as solid and substantial a savior as I'm likely to see.
My limbs have cramped up. I can only crouch here, biting back the sobs, as she stomps over to the bed and yanks my chin up. My cheeks sting with salt and blood.
"What have you been doing to yourself?"
"N-nothing, it's not me-" I stammer before I realize how crazy that must sound.
Warden places one massive, meaty hand on my shoulder and calls for the guards in a casual tone, as if inviting them to join us for tea. I could dislocate her arm with a shrug, but I sit here silent. I don't want to hurt anyone else. I want to be good.
Roberts and Harris appear. They have cuffs and closed, set faces.
"Buffy," I plead, "stop them! Don't let them take me!"
"They can't hold you," you say gently, stating the obvious. "You are the Slayer." You're walking backwards, walking away from me. Leaving me alone.
"Buffy, don't leave me!"
"Faith, come." You hold out your hand, suddenly soft, tender. "You know you belong out there. With me."
Harris jerks my arms roughly behind my back. It's now or never.
Give me life.
Give me pain.
Give me myself again.
As Harris bends over to fasten the restraints, I thrust my head back hard. There's a sickening liquid crunch, followed by a muffled thud as he ricochets off the wall behind us. Roberts' eyes widen comically and he goes for his gun, but he's moving in slo mo and it's child's play to intercept that wrist and twist till it crackles while slamming my knee into his balls. He slumps to the floor with a low moan and I take off down the corridor after you.
So easy, so natural. This is what we were built for.
Only a few seconds and we're busting out of the compound, into the moonlit courtyard. The main gate is sure to be locked, but I judge that there's just enough space at the top for me to wriggle through. I push off, soar, catch my fingers on the crossbar, pull myself up and out. I hear my shirt rip as I squeeze through, bruising my belly.
No bars can hold me. I am the Slayer.
I hit the ground running; you join me almost at once. Bullets spray the dirt around us but you outrace them, legs pumping faster than mortal eyes can follow.
I'm not so lucky: a stray shot shatters the bone in my right arm. The pain is almost unbearable - I stagger and almost measure my length in the dust, but you reach for me, jerk me back to my feet.
Hand in hand, we take off towards the distant city lights, following our shadows with the moon at our backs.
Far behind us, the sirens, the roar of engines, the exultant bay of dogs, the terrified shouts of men. Before us, the open road, firm under my feet, and straight and clear as far as the eye can see.
Here we go again.